Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 31, 2007

What is a legislature?

We operate with many concepts when doing comparative politics. But, when we label things as different as the UK Parliament and the PRC National People's Congress with the word "legislature," are we damaging the concepts we're trying to use?

And if we call China's NPC a legislature, what exactly are we talking about?

Take this article from Xinhua.

The headline is, "China's top legislature adopts new laws, approves ministers nomination, expels corrupt deputies"

The lead paragraph begins with, "China's top legislature closed its seven-day bimonthly session on Thursday..."

But if we look at our textbooks, we easily find out that the NPC meets yearly, not "bimonthly."

What's going on?

The article noted in the next paragraph, "The 170-member Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) also voted to expel former top Shanghai official Chen Liangyu and three other corrupt deputies out of the national legislature..."

The meeting, then, is of the Standing Committee of the NPC, but the headline clearly says that "China's top legislature" had met.

In the Chinese political culture, is the Standing Committee basically the same as the NPC?

The Standing Committee "voted to add one clause to the Law on the Management of Urban Real Estate," adopted "four other laws and amendments," "approved the appointment of five ministers," and "ratified two international treaties."

So, should we call the NPC a legislature? Should we call the NPC's Standing Committee a legislature? Or should we call the Party Politburo and Secretariat a legislature, since that's the ultimate source of these laws and appointments?


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Is it any wonder we wonder?

The first two reports come from Xinhua, the official government news agency. The third report is from the International Herald Tribune.

Former Shanghai party chief expelled from top legislature

"Former Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu was stripped of his last official post as deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, for serious violation of Party disciplines, on Thursday.

"Shanghai Municipal People's Congress decided to remove him from his position as NPC deputy in July and the 29th session of the NPC Standing Committee approved the decision on Thursday.

"Chen has been expelled from the Communist Party of China (CPC) and dismissed from all government posts and is being detained, a waiting for trial...

"Duan Yihe, former chairman of the Standing Committee of Jinan Municipal People's Congress, who was sentenced to death for murdering his mistress, was also expelled from the country's top legislative body.

"The memberships of two other lawmakers, Sun Shengchang, former mayor of Qitaihe of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, and Bao Jianmin, former head of Henan Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau, were also terminated because of graft charges."




Chinese Finance Minister removed from post

"China's national legislature on Thursday removed Finance Minister Jin Renqing from office and appointed his replacement.

"Xie Xuren, 59, director of the State Administration of Taxation, was appointed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to replace 63-year-old Jin.

"'Jin Renqing submitted a letter of resignation by himself,' according to government briefing..."




The International Herald Tribune reported recent personnel changes this way:

China replaces finance and secret police ministers, plus three others

"China replaced its finance minister, the head of the secret police and three other Cabinet members, the government said Thursday, in a reshuffling of senior posts ahead of a major Communist Party meeting that will set policies for the next five years.

"Stated reasons for the changes varied, with some officials reaching retirement age and one dying in office. Jin Renqing, the finance minister since 2003, was resigning "for personal reasons," a Cabinet spokeswoman said without elaborating, fueling speculation that Jin had run afoul of the party leadership...

"The replacement of the five senior officials comes amid a wave of new appointments and marks a departure from the past when top government portfolios changed hands after the once-every-five-years party congresses. This year's congress, to be held in October, will see President Hu Jintao further put his stamp on the party's lineup and national priorities...

"The changes were announced at the end of a meeting of the executive committee of the National People's Congress. The legislature nominally has authority over the Cabinet, or State Council, though most personnel and major policy decisions are made behind closed doors by the communist leadership..."


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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another place to watch our language

Before we go too far into this report, it's a good idea to remember

1. "Mr. Gutseriev’s 100 percent ownership..." Is "ownership" an appropriate word here? Gutseriev and other oligarchs did not build the "companies" they controlled, nor did they "earn" the money used to "buy" them. When they ended up on the top of the heap, it meant they were the survivors of the gigantic con games played in the '90s to take over state assets during "structural adjustments."

2. "... capriciousness of the judicial system..." If the courts do not follow a rule of law, is it right to call them part of a "judicial system" without deluding ourselves about the nature of Russian governance? In the Soviet and Russian legal systems it's always been difficult to distinguish between the roles of prosecutors, defense, and judges. Is it any different than it was in the past? Would we have called Stalin's courts a judicial system?

3. "'People are fighting over assets with no limits or rules,' ..." That may be commentary, but it's not news. Refer back to the '90s once again. Yeltsin's oligarchs won those fights. Putin's oligarchs are winning now.


Arrest Ordered for Russian Oil Entrepreneur, a Critic of the Kremlin

"A Russian court issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for Mikhail S. Gutseriev [at left], a former owner of Russneft, a large young oil company, on charges of tax evasion and fraud, a month after he published a letter critical of the government on a company Web site and in a Russian business newspaper...

"Mr. Gutseriev, however, was likely to have already fled the country...

"Mr. Gutseriev’s 100 percent ownership stake in Russneft... now valued at roughly $6 billion, has been frozen by order of a Moscow court, making him the latest wealthy Russian to fall quickly from a high perch.

"His predicament sheds light on the capriciousness of the judicial system here, as well as the imperative for business executives to show loyalty to the leadership of President Vladimir V. Putin, analysts of Russian business practices said...

"'People are fighting over assets with no limits or rules,' Yulia L. Latynina, a political commentator on the Echo of Moscow radio station, said by telephone. 'People are fighting not within the law or within reason, but just out of greed.'"


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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Can we be objective about China?

Carsten Holz is an economist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review, he questions the objectivity of people (including himself) who study China.

There are questions here that comparativists should ask themselves too. Should we really call the Chinese government a "government?" Or is that a misleading analogy to governments in the West?

Have China Scholars All Been Bought?

"Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don’t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach...

"China researchers across different disciplines may not all be equally affected. Economists and political scientists are likely to come up against the Party constraint frequently, and perhaps severely. But even sociologists or ethnographers can reach the forbidden zone when doing network studies or examining ethnic minority cultures.

"Our self-censorship takes many forms. We ask Western instead of China-relevant questions. We try to explain the profitability of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) by basic economic factors, when it may make more sense to explain it by the quality of enterprise management (hand-picked by the Party’s “Organization Department”), or by the political constraints an enterprise faces, or by the political and bureaucratic channels through which an enterprise interacts with its owners, employees, suppliers and buyers...

"We do not question the meaning of the Chinese word shichang, translated as “market,” but presume it to be the same as in the West.

"Similarly, we take at face value China’s Company Law, which makes no mention of the Party, even though the Party is likely to still call the shots in the companies organized under the Company Law... The Shaanxi Provincial Party Committee and the Shaanxi government... explicitly require the Party cell in state-owned enterprises (including “companies”) to participate in all major enterprise decisions... At the national level, the leadership of the 50 largest central state-owned enterprises—enterprises that invest around the world—is directly appointed by the Politburo...

"We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities—85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres...

"Our use of language to conform to the image the Party wishes to project is pervasive. Would the description 'a secret society characterized by an attitude of popular hostility to law and government' not properly describe the secrecy of the Party’s operations, its supremacy above the law and its total control of government? In Webster’s New World College Dictionary, this is the definition of 'mafia.'

"We speak of the Chinese 'government' without further qualification when more than 95% of the 'leadership cadres' are Party members, key decisions are reached by leadership cadres in their function as members of Party work committees...

"Does China’s government actually govern China, or is it merely an organ that implements Party decisions? By using the word 'government,' is it correct to grant the Chinese 'government' this association with other, in particular Western, governments, or would it not be more accurate to call it the 'government with Chinese characteristics' or the 'mafia’s front man'?...

"The Party’s—or, the mafia’s—terminology pervades our writing and teaching. We do not ask if the Chinese Communist Party is communist, the People’s Congresses are congresses of the people, the People’s Liberation Army is liberating or suppressing the people, or if the judges are not all appointed by the Party and answer to the Party. We say 'Tiananmen incident,' in conformance with Party terminology, but called it 'Tiananmen massacre' right after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, when 'incident' would have made us look too submissive to the Party.

"Which Western textbook on China’s political system elaborates on the Party’s selection and de facto appointment of government officials and parliamentary delegates, and, furthermore, points out these procedures as different from how we view political parties, government and parliament in the West? By following the Party’s lead in giving the names of Western institutions to fake Chinese imitations, we sanctify the Party’s pretenses. We are not even willing to call China what its own constitution calls it: a dictatorship...

"Who lays out the systematic sale of leadership positions across Chinese governments and Party committees?...

"Party propaganda has found its way deeply into our thinking. The importance of “social stability” and nowadays a “harmonious society” are accepted unconditionally as important for China. But is a country with more than 200 incidents of social unrest every day really socially stable, and its society harmonious? Or does “socially stable” mean no more than acceptance of the rule of the mafia?..."


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Living Buddha permits required in China

If you are looking for an example of how Party government in China tries to ensure that all civil society groups in the country are controlled by the government/Party, the 18 August issue of The Economist explains that in China, you now need a permit to be reincarnated.

Reincarnation rules

"LIKE many religious monuments around the world, the Yonghegong or 'Lama Temple' in Beijing is both tourist trap and place of worship...

"But in the shrines themselves the devout pray with real fervour. They are almost all Chinese. Like other religions, Tibetan Buddhism, and even its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is gaining new adherents in China. In Tibet itself, there seems little sign that faith is weakening.

"This helps explain 'Order Number Five', passed at a conference of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) in Beijing last month, and due to come into effect on September 1st. It covers 'management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism'. In this faith, some who have achieved enlightenment can opt to be reborn, to help those less blessed.

"The most famous living Buddha is of course the Dalai Lama himself, but there are many others...

"Living Buddhas are typically identified in boyhood through a mixture of tests -- familiarity with the late incarnation’s belongings -- and divination. Now the government wants to control the process, arrogating to itself the right to approve incarnations. Bizarrely, Order Number Five even provides for 'living Buddha permits', to be registered at SARA. Reincarnation, moreover, is banned in 'cities with delineated districts', which can only refer to Xining and Lhasa, the capital of what is now the 'Tibet Autonomous Region' of China.

"The government’s odd meddling in religious affairs is not confined to Buddhism. One of China’s chief disputes with the Vatican is over its refusal to allow the Pope the authority to appoint bishops. But its apparent determination to control religion in Tibet is especially intense, because Buddhism is so bound up with Tibetans’ identity and nationalism..."




Follow Up:

Bishop Arrested

"Bishop Jia Zhiguo, the underground Roman Catholic bishop of the Zheng Ding Diocese in Hebei Province, was arrested, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a group in Stamford, Conn., that promotes religious freedom for Catholics in China. It was the 11th time he has been arrested since the beginning of 2004; he previously served 20 years in prison. Underground and state-sanctioned Catholic churches operate separately in China, with underground churches as targets of repression that varies from province to province."


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Public opinion in Mexico

Mexicans Want Calderón's Speech in Congress

"The vast majority of people in Mexico want Felipe Calderón to read the presidential State of the Country address to Congress, according to a poll by Milenio. 73 per cent of respondents would not want to repeat a past experience, when a sitting head of state chose to deliver a written copy of his speech and opted not to read it himself...

"On Aug. 19, PRD Senate coordinator Carlos Navarrete announced that his party has agreed to block Calderón’s path to the stage of Congress to prevent him from delivering the presidential State of the Country address on Sept. 1. Navarrete declared: 'The PRD’s lawmakers will not accept the presence of he who doesn’t count with the legitimacy given by a democratic election in the podium of Congress.'..."




One of my reasons for posting this report on public opinion in Mexico is to remind you of the Angus Reid Global Monitor web site.

If you want to use recent poll results from a country you're teaching about, Angus Reid is about the best place to begin looking.

But you'll have to check it regularly. Current poll results will remain available to the public. But, after 4 years of publishing poll results and allowing anyone to access "over 16,100 polls," the archives are about to become subscription only.

A note on the site explains, "Beginning in September, our daily news feeds of political, social, and economic affairs will continue to be free and our access to archives will be on a subscription basis."

So, if you check regularly and harvest current data that you can use later in your course, you'll have access to it. Otherwise, you'll have get your library or department to subscribe.


There are other good sources for global public opinion. Afrobarometer comes to mind. But, from my limited perspective, Angus Reid is the most useful for comparativists (and it has links to good polling results about US politics as well).

If you have other sources to share with us here, please send them along. Use the comment link at the bottom of this entry.


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Political change and American consumerism

Dan Harris, writing on the China Law Blog, recently offered the following bit of provocative thesis that he found in an LA Times op-ed article by Nathan Gardels.

If you're a subscriber, you can get access to the whole LA Times article, but here's the part Dan quoted. Even without the rest of the article, this excerpt could be a useful writing prompt (FRQ?) to assign after your students have done some study of China.

Gardels wrote:

"Americans won't hesitate to cut the import lifeline and shift away from Chinese products that might poison their children or kill their pets.

"Unlike organized labor or human rights groups, consumers don't have to mobilize to effect change; they only have to stop spending. And their bargaining agents -- Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us -- have immensely more clout than the AFL-CIO and Amnesty International in fostering change in China.

"Ironically, the United States' 'most favored nation' trade treatment for China (and its later entry into the World Trade Organization), which labor and human rights groups so virulently opposed in the past, has become a Trojan horse. China's future is now so linked to the American consumer that Beijing will be forced to curb corruption and strengthen regulation through the rule of law or face the certain doom of its export-led growth..."


And the policy response to the response to policy is...

Crisis looms as 18 million Chinese can't find a wife

"China is planning to tighten punishments for sex-selective abortions amid concerns that its widening gender imbalance will lead to wife trafficking, sexual crimes and social frustration...

"Nationwide, six males are born for every five females, far above the international average. With the gap growing every year as a result of increased access to ultrasound sex-checking technology, one senior official warned that China faces the 'most serious gender imbalance in the world'... state demographers forecast that 37 million men will be unable to find wives by 2020. Already there are 18 million more men than women of marriageable age...

"The authorities have found the gender balance harder to manage than restricting population growth itself. In 2003, the government introduced a 'Care for girls' policy, which provided incentives - such as tax breaks and exemptions from school and health fees - for families raising girls.

"It also intensified a propaganda campaign in the countryside, where many buildings are daubed with slogans proclaiming 'Girls are as valuable as boys'. Old-style propaganda campaigns are not working, however. This summer, the government said it will punish for the first time any medical institution that tells couples the sex of unborn babies..."


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Nigerian royalty

The World of Royalty web site pointed me at this article from The Tide (Port Harcourt) about the statement issued after a conference of Nigerian "traditional leaders."

Royal fathers renew call for constitutional roles

"Traditional rulers in the country in Abuja renewed their call on the federal government to assign to them some constitutional roles.

"The call was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of the Conference of Chairmen of States’ Traditional Councils presided over by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar.

"The communiqué said in spite of the positive contributions of the traditional institution over the years, its role had been undermined by various political and constitutional reforms.

"It attributed that to 'imported ideas on democracy and development from foreign countries which had burdened the country’s constitutional framework'.

It called on the federal government to evolve a political and democratic culture that was in consonance with indigenous culture and tradition...

"Etsu Nupe [head of a six-man Coordinating Committee] told The Tide correspondent that the meeting was the first of its kind 'for quite some time.'

He said it was time for Nigeria to practice democracy along its culture and tradition. 'Examples abound in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Britain, Japan, as nations that practice democracy peculiar to their culture,' he said."





His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Brigadier General) Yahaya Abubakar. The 13th Etsu-Nupe




A bit of context about traditional leaders in Nigeria is offered by Chris Ewokor's article on the BBC World News web site, Nigerians go crazy for a title.

"To be addressed as a Mr, Mrs or Ms in Nigerian social circles means you are a nobody. To be a mover or shaker you need to be a chief - or to at least hold a doctorate...

"To be a traditional chief is like being a small god - it is seen as the peak of one's achievement in life.

"A chief should be someone who is well-to-do financially and intellectually -- and has contributed substantially to the development of the community.

"Many people say honorary titles these days can often be bought by giving a donation of about $10,000 to one's home area...

"Financial manager Reginald Ibe, a chief of the Igbo people in the south-east, echoes this disquiet.

"'Chieftaincy titles have practically been bastardised these days,' he says.

"'Everybody wants to acquire one chieftaincy title or any other title. The number of honorary PhDs we have in this country is symptomatic of a people who have failed in so many aspects of life.'...




One of the comments responding to the article offered this insight:

"Having a forgettable title like "Chief of Nowhere-ville" in Nigeria means nothing at all. However, those who hold important titles still wield a phenomenal amount of power. Titles like the Ooni of Ife, Aareonokankafo of Yorubaland (formerly the very important MKO Abiola), Bobagunwa ilu Egba, Sultan of Sokoto, Saradauna, Alaafin of Oyo, etc are extremely important titles, and having such titles DOES bring a LOT of respect. When the Ife/Modakeke crisis in Nigeria seemed not to have a solution, who did we turn to for a lasting solution? A very important Chief, the Ooni of Ife!"




And another noted:

"Initially, especially in the Eastern Nigeria, chieftancy was based on integrity and industry. Two major factors changed that. First, the British colonial indirect rule appointed people into chieftancy positions who had no right to it but were amenable to the colonial masters. Some of them became autocratic. Second, the military bought loyalty through the chiefs. That made having a title a lucrative projective. If the government stop the practice of buying blind loyalty through the traditional rulers; if the financial gain is removed, this madness will end."


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Friday, August 24, 2007

Using capital for politics

If most of a nation's wealth is "intangible capital," then using those intangibles is important to economic viability and success.

For strategic reasons, the United States "employed" Russia's nuclear industry and experts to support the Russian economy and keep nuclear technology and materials away from terrorists and rogue states.

Knowing that his country needs to use the technical knowledge and skills as well as the "produced capital" in its factories and infrastructure may be part of the reason for Putin's announcement reported in The Guardian (UK) yesterday.

Another part of the policy making environment is the perceived threat from the US and NATO.

And yet another part of that environment may be presidential succession in Russia.

Helping students to understand all these motives (and more) is part of teaching comparative. Luke Harding's report from Moscow might help you do that.


Russia steps up military expansion

"Vladimir Putin announced ambitious plans to revive Russia's military power and restore its role as the world's leading producer of military aircraft yesterday...

"The remarks follow his decision last week to resume long-range missions by strategic bomber aircraft capable of hitting the US with nuclear weapons...

"Mr Putin said Russia would also resume the large-scale manufacture of civilian planes. 'Russia has a very important goal which is to retain leadership in the production of military equipment,' he said...

"In the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet Union produced more civilian planes than any other country in the world apart from the United States...

"As part of the plan to boost significantly Russia's civilian aircraft industry, a new state-controlled organisation, the United Aircraft Corporation, has been created.

It is led by Sergei Ivanov, Russia's hawkish first deputy prime minister, who sat next to Mr Putin during yesterday's airshow - and the leading candidate to succeed him after next year's presidential elections."




Followup: Iran buys Russian passenger jets

"Iran has signed a deal with Russia to buy five new Tupolev passenger planes...

"Russia had a powerful aircraft building industry in Soviet times.

"But the loss of guaranteed markets in other, formerly Communist countries hit civilian aircraft building hard.

"It is now just a shadow of its former self, but the Russian government says it can draw on the experience of the manufacturers of fighter planes and forge new markets.

"This was the driving idea behind the creation of a state-owned corporation, UABC, last year.

"It brings together more than 20 separate Russian companies involved in civilian and military aircraft building.

"Officials say consolidating capacities like this will eventually enable them to secure a 10% share of the global market for passenger aircraft..."


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Intimidation, prevention, and punishment

This report comes from Robert Tait, writing in The Guardian's (UK) Sunday Observer.

Iran hangs 30 over 'US plots'

"Iran has hanged up to 30 people in the past month amid a clampdown prompted by alleged US-backed plots to topple the regime...

"Many executions have been carried out in public in an apparent bid to create a climate of intimidation while sending out uncompromising signals to the West. Opposition sources say at least three of the dead were political activists, contradicting government insistence that it is targeting 'thugs' and dangerous criminals. The executions have coincided with a crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a 'soft revolution' with US support.

"The most high-profile recent executions involved Majid Kavousifar, 28, and his nephew, Hossein Kavousifar, 24, hanged for the murder of a hardline judge... They were hanged from cranes and hoisted high above one of Tehran's busiest thoroughfares...

"Public hangings are normally carried out sparingly in Iran and reserved for cases that have provoked public outrage, such as serial murders or child killings. Human rights organisations say the rising death toll has brought the number of prisoners executed this year to about 150, compared to 177 in 2006, a dramatic increase in capital punishment since the country's radical President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took office two years ago...

"International gay rights campaigners have also said that homosexual men were among the executed. Homosexuality is a capital offence in Iran, along with adultery, espionage, armed robbery, drug trafficking and apostasy.

"Iran has long been one of the world's most prolific exponents of the death penalty and ranks second only to China in the number of executions... the spate of executions seems likely to continue. Tehran's hardline chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, has announced that he is seeking the death penalty against 17 'hooligans'."


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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Failed, weak, and strong states

Back in June, I noted the publication of the Failed States Index for 2007.

The July/August issue of Foreign Policy is out with a cover feature on the Failed States Index. I saw a copy in, of all places, Great Clips, where I got my haircut yesterday.

Teaching about strong states, weak states, and failed states is an essential element of any comparative politics course, and this issue of Foreign Policy offers many teaching opportunities.

The introduction to the multi-part feature begins with, "Few encouraging signs emerged in 2006 to suggest the world is on a path to greater peace and stability...

"What makes these alarming headlines all the more troubling is that their origins lie in weak and failing states...

"The complex phenomenon of state failure may be much discussed, but it remains little understood. The problems that plague failing states are generally all too similar: rampant corruption, predatory elites who have long monopolized power, an absence of the rule of law, and severe ethnic or religious divisions. But that does not mean that the responses to their problems should be cut from the same cloth. Failing states are a diverse lot..."

The complete rankings are here, along with the scores on all 12 indicators.

There's a map illustrating the Failed States Index that you can buy in two sizes.

There are brief reports on The Best and the Worst, on the leaders of some of the worst, and a series of maps illustrating the contagion of failed states.

There is a chart that is too clever by half that is supposed to illustrate the correlation between religious intolerance and failed states. And the commentary on the chart can't resist claiming that causation as well as correlation is illustrated by the chart. You might want to talk students through it with the idea of helping them learn to read complex charts, but it would be great to follow that up with an assignment asking students to sketch better ways to present the data.

For better teaching tools, there is a wonderful chart illustrating the correlation between environmental sustainability and scores on the Failed States Index.

You can also find a good Q&A section on the methodology of the index.

At the Foreign Policy web site, you can also find video interviews with ambassadors from seven of the "worst-performing" countries.

This is probably more than you wanted to know and more than you can use. But from all these riches, you can create a great lesson or two about the concepts of failed, weak, and strong states.

Enjoy!


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Monday, August 20, 2007

Rule of law and wealth of nations

Jim Lerch sent me a tiny message with the URL of an article from ReasonOnLine.

If you're looking for a way to get students involved in thinking about the connections between economics, government, and politics, this is a great introduction. Well, I think it's an introduction. You might have to do some teaching (and your students do some learning) about the basics of economics. It depends on what the students have learned about economic systems before your class.

Our Intangible Riches

"Oil, soil, copper, and forests are forms of wealth. So are factories, houses, and roads. But according to a 2005 study by the World Bank, such solid goods amount to only about 20 percent of the wealth of rich nations and 40 percent of the wealth of poor countries.

"So what accounts for the majority? World Bank environmental economist Kirk Hamilton and his team... have found that most of humanity's wealth isn't made of physical stuff. It is intangible... Hamilton's team found that 'human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries.'

"The World Bank study defines natural capital as the sum of cropland, pastureland, forested areas, protected areas, and nonrenewable resources (including oil, natural gas, coal, and minerals). Produced capital is what most of us think of when we think of capital: machinery, equipment, structures (including infrastructure), and urban land. But that still left a lot of wealth to explain...

"The rest of the story is intangible capital. That encompasses raw labor; human capital, which includes the sum of a population's knowledge and skills; and the level of trust in a society and the quality of its formal and informal institutions. Worldwide, the study finds, 'natural capital accounts for 5 percent of total wealth, produced capital for 18 percent, and intangible capital 77 percent.'

"Social institutions are most crucial. The World Bank has devised a rule of law index that measures the extent to which people have confidence in and abide by the rules of their society. An economy with a very efficient judicial system, clear and enforceable property rights, and an effective and uncorrupt government will produce higher total wealth. For example, Switzerland scores 99.5 out of 100 on the rule of law index and the U.S. hits 91.8. By contrast, Nigeria gets a score of just 5.8... The members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development -- 30 wealthy developed countries -- have an average score of 90, while sub-Saharan Africa's is 28. 'Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity,' the study concludes. According to Hamilton's figures, the rule of law explains 57 percent of countries' intangible capital. Education accounts for 36 percent.

"The rule of law index was created using several hundred individual variables measuring perceptions of governance, drawn from 25 separate data sources constructed by 18 different organizations. The latter include civil society groups, political and business risk-rating agencies, and think tanks...

"[The study] convincingly shows what countries need to do to create wealth and lift billions of people out of abject poverty: Establish the rule of law and educate their people. That's a lot harder to do than building giant dams or aluminum factories, but it would be a lot more effective in reducing poverty..."

The article ends with a thoughtful and valuable Q&A with Kirk Hamilton. I thought the questions about
  • What sorts of institutions help countries become rich?
  • How do you define rule of law?
  • You claim that "there's no apparent empirical relationship between current net savings and future well being." This seems astonishing to me. Why is that?
  • The economic historian Angus Madison calculates that it took 1,800 years for average incomes in Western Europe to rise from $450 per capita in the Roman Empire to $1,250 in 1820... If we know what kind of institutions work to create wealth, it would seem we should try to duplicate that in poor countries if we want them to develop.





See also:
  • Home page for Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century (where you can download the book)
  • A preview of Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century from Google Books



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Irrelevant elections coming up?

This analysis from The Economist suggests that Russian elections in the near future might be irrelevant civic exercises.

Putin versus nobody serious

"AT A recent gathering of Other Russia, a loose coalition of liberals, nationalists and communists who oppose President Vladimir Putin, a pro-Kremlin youth group lit candles and played a funeral march. The stunt cut close to the bone.

"Russia’s opposition may not yet be dead, but it is in a deep coma. The Kremlin has hollowed out politics by rigging rules on parties and elections. It has made it hard for the opposition to put its case on television and sent truncheon-wielding police to dispel protesters. But infighting, lack of ideas and above all low public support have done as much to hurt the opposition. Just four months before a parliamentary election and eight months before the presidential poll, it is divided, demoralised and lacks a single candidate. Mr Putin’s approval rating, meanwhile, stands at a majestic, if propaganda-fuelled, 85%...

"The two older liberal parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS)... have failed to combine, though both seek votes from the same sort of people...

"The problem, however, runs deeper. As Boris Nemtsov, one of the SPS’s more plausible leaders, says: 'There is no real demand for a liberal opposition in Russian society.' Many Russians still associate liberals such as Messrs Nemtsov and Chubais with impoverishment, chaos and loss of national pride in the 1990s...

"Few Russians care enough about freedom of speech or human rights to risk their improving lifestyle. 'The Kremlin has done a deal with the Russian people,' says Mr Kasyanov. ‘“Citizens! Enjoy life, travel abroad, buy cars, but don’t get involved in politics. If your patriotic feelings start to stir, we’ll satisfy them.’”..."


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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Iranian rap protest video

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports on a YouTube video produced by an Iranian living in the USA. The music video features a protest about government actions to enforce a dress code for Iranian women.

Internet Video Tells Leaders To 'Leave The Youth Alone'

"A video by underground Iranian musicians that is circulating on the Internet criticizes the current official crackdown to enforce Iran's strict dress code.

"The clip is built around an Iranian rap song that has tough words for the Iranian leadership and what it describes as official repression of young people.

"The video, called "No More Lies," chides authorities for their persecution of Iranian young people who flout the dress code...

"The clip includes scenes of Iranians -- most of them women -- being warned or detained by police because of their appearance...


SEE THE VIDEO AT YouTube


"The video begins with a televised interview in which Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says his government has better things to do than tell young people how to dress...

"Mani Turkzadeh, an Iranian-born activist who is now based in Los Angeles, California, produced the video. He tells RFE/RL that he decided to make the video about a month ago, after he received the song by e-mail...

"It is perhaps no coincidence that the rapper is a woman, who are discriminated against under Iran's strict official interpretation of Shari'a. The song's collaborators also chose a musical genre against which authorities appear to be cracking down..."


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Saturday, August 18, 2007

If you can't say something good...

The government in Russia only demanded that most news be good. The Chinese government has set a higher standard.

All news must be good news, says Chinese government

"China has ordered its media to report only positive news and has imprisoned a pro-democracy dissident amid a clampdown on dissent ahead of the most important meeting of the communist party in five years.

"Media controls have been tightened, Aids activists detained and NGOs shut down as president Hu Jintao prepares for the 17th party congress, when the next generation of national leaders will be unveiled in a politburo reshuffle...

"With the congress nearing... the domestic media have been banned from conducting independent investigations of food and product safety stories.

"In Beijing the municipal propaganda department has issued detailed instructions to editors on how they should cover the test of traffic-easing measures, which started today. During the four-day trial more than 1m cars have been ordered off the roads. Local newspapers and TV stations can only report on the improvements to the environment and transportation. Interviews with inconvenienced commuters or images of overcrowded buses are forbidden.

"Most state media have also been banned from reporting on the collapse of a bridge in southern China which killed at least 41 people. Reporters said local officials punched them and chased them from the scene of Monday's disaster..."


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Friday, August 17, 2007

Witchcraft and politics

The BBC World Service reports on a serious issue in Nigeria with a lead that seems to marginalize the protest. That is unfortunate.

How well could your students identify the cleavages that divide Nigerians? How well could they rank those cleavages in terms of their political impacts? What would they find if they looked for independent analysis of the reasons for Igbo alienation?

Women threaten to curse Nigerians

"A group of Nigerian women says it will place a curse on the country's men if the government fails to free an Igbo separatist leader held for treason...

"Mr Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob), was arrested in October 2005 after he announced that the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria would launch a renewed secession bid...

"Recently, Nigerian courts freed two Yoruba separatist leaders and granted bail to Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the most prominent rebel leader from the Niger Delta.

"Like Mr Uwazuruike, they had all been charged with treason..."


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gangs, political gangs, and government in Nigeria

This BBC report offers tantalizing hints about the functioning of government and politics in Nigeria's south south.

Gun battles in Nigeria oil city

"Heavy fighting between armed gangs and the military has been reported in Nigeria's oil city of Port Harcourt...

"It follows clashes that raged last week between powerful rival armed gangs that left at least 15 people dead.

"The gangs run criminal rackets and also have links to militant groups based in the creeks of the Niger Delta...

"For most of last week rival gangs fought pitched battles around the city leaving many dead, mostly bystanders.

"The authorities say it is a turf war.

"The gangs that run criminal rackets are large in size and have plenty of weapons.

"The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says there is also a suspicion that others may have an interest in the fighting.

"Most of the armed gangs had close links to politicians who employed them to help rig elections.

"Gangs, money and politics have long been a dangerous combination in the Niger Delta, he says.

"In the aftermath of April's polls, he says it seems all sides are trying to exert their control, whether it be the gangs, the politicians or the security forces directed by the new government."




See also:


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Want to challenge a few stereotypes?

How about asking your students to critique a commencement speech given by a Shiite imam? This Shiite imam promotes pluralism, democracy, civil society, and the study of comparative government.

On June 15, His Highness the Aga Khan spoke at the graduation ceremony of the Masters of Public Affairs (MPA) Programme at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).

[The Aga Khan is the 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. The Ismailis are ethnically and culturally diverse and reside in over 25 countries around the world. He is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. His public goals have been the elimination of global poverty; the advancement of the status of women; the promotion of Islamic culture, art, and architecture; and furthering pluralistic values in society. In 2006, he established The Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, Canada, dedicated to promoting pluralism in developing countries.]

Below are excerpts to which I added some emphases. The whole text is available in English and French on the Aga Khan's web site at Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan.

The speech offers a number of assertions that your students can evaluate and an endorsement of the study of comparative government.



"The values which Sciences Po honors today are deeply rooted in its history... [that] has always honored the past by embracing the future...

"The founders of Sciences Po realized in their time that aristocracies of class must give way to aristocracies of talent...

"Another value which Sciences Po has emphasized from the start is that of pluralism - an outlook which rises above parochial preoccupations...

"We hear a great deal these days about a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the West. I disagree profoundly. In my view, it is a clash of ignorance which we are facing. And the answer to ignorance is education...

"[T]here are three challenges in particular that I would like to highlight... They are: first, the future of democracy, especially in the developing world; secondly, the central role which civil society can play in that development; and thirdly, the crisis in relations between the West and the Islamic world...

ONE
"The history of democracy, especially in areas of Asia and Africa which I know well, has been a long series of jolts and jars...

"A recent survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of 18 South American countries confirmed that the majority of people were less interested in their forms of government than in their quality of life...

"The question that must be asked, I believe, is not whether democracy is a good thing in the abstract, but rather how to help democracy perform better in practice...

"[T]here are some hopeful signs. Generally speaking, the most successful developing countries are those which have engaged actively with the global knowledge society, those which have accepted and defended the value of pluralism, and those which have created an enabling environment for human enterprise, rather than indulging in asphyxiating policies which discourage human endeavour...

"But in too many places, democratic practice is deeply flawed. One problem is simple ignorance of the various forms of democracy. I attribute this in part to the absence of good education in comparative government. Holding a national referendum on a new constitution, is no guarantee that the provisions of the constitution have been understood, let alone validated, by popular consent...

"the very concept of democracy must be adapted to a variety of national and cultural contexts. Effective democracy can not be imposed from the top or from the outside. Democracy’s value must be deeply felt in the daily lives of a country’s population, including the rural majority, if it is to be upheld and promoted...

TWO
"One of the reasons that I am more optimistic than some about the future of the developing world is my faith that a host of new institutions can play a larger role in that future. I am especially enthusiastic about the potential of what I call “civil society”...

"Too often we have assumed that voluntary organizations are too limited to serve great public purposes. For some, the very notion of private organizations devoted to public goals seems to be an oxymoron.

"But this skeptical attitude is changing. The power of civil society is becoming more apparent...

"Civil and private institutions have unique capacities for spurring social progress - even when governments falter. For one thing, because they are intimately connected to the warp and woof of daily life, they can predict new patterns with particular sensitivity.

"The development of civil society can also help meet the challenge of cultural diversity, giving diverse constituencies effective ways to express and preserve their distinct identities...

"Private institutions also provide good laboratories for experimentation...

THREE
"I am deeply convinced that the fundamental roots of this crisis [in relations between the West and the Islamic world] are infinitely more political than they are theological. And we can deal effectively with this crisis, I believe, only if we begin by addressing a complex set of political issues, rather than worrying so much about a conflict of religions.

"If you reflect back to the origins of the present flash points, the historical legacy has been consistently political - and frequently explosive. The present Middle East situation was born at the end of World War I, growing out of the search for a homeland for the Jewish peoples of our world. The Kashmir conflict was born out of the decolonisation process when Britain withdrew from the then-united India. More recently, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the British and American invasion of Iraq have further contributed to the turmoil.

"But disputes among the three Abrahamic faiths themselves have not been responsible for these conflicts. Yes, many of the problems have since taken on the colouring of interfaith conflict, but that development is the consequence, much more than the cause, of these tragedies...

"Three observations are critical here. First, there really is no one single Islamic world, but a variety of individual situations which need individual analysis. Second, the faith of Islam, in the vast majority of its interpretations, is not in conflict with the other great Abrahamic traditions. Third, each crisis we encounter stems from its own specific political context...

"The world is becoming more pluralist in fact - but not in spirit. “Cosmopolitan” social patterns have not yet been matched by what I would call “a cosmopolitan ethic”...

"Instead of shouting at one another, our faiths ask us to listen - and learn from one another. As we do, one of our first lessons might well center on those powerful but often neglected chapters in history when Islamic and European cultures interacted cooperatively and creatively to realize some of civilization's peak achievements.

"The spirit of pluralism is not a pallid religious compromise. It is a sacred religious imperative. In this light, our differences can become sources of enrichment, so that we see “the other” as an opportunity and a blessing - whether “the other” lives across the street - or across the world..."


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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More distractions?

Is Ahmadinejad's government trying to distract people from problems it cannot solve? Robert Tait, writing in The Guardian (UK), thinks there are even more distractions than noted here earlier.

Iranian president sacks ministers to deflect blame for policy failure

"Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has sacked his oil and industry ministers in an apparent attempt to tighten his grip on power while deflecting blame for failed economic policies...

"Despite the diplomatic wording, there appeared little doubt yesterday that the two men had been forced out, to be replaced by interim ministers until permanent successors are appointed.

"[The] departures follow widespread criticism of the president for presiding over an economic landscape of rising inflation and high unemployment, in contrast to his pre-election promises to alleviate poverty and generate prosperity...

"Saeed Leylaz, an economic analyst, said the two ministers were victims of Mr Ahmadinejad's policies. 'This is because the policies of Mr Ahmadinejad have failed and he has not fulfilled his promises,' he said. 'He has to make a lot of noise to tell people that these are the guys responsible for the failures. At the same time, he is trying to rearrange his government in time for the next parliamentary elections.'

"Mr Ahmadinejad may now seek a radical shakeup in the foreign ministry. He is also expected to replace the governor of Iran's central bank, Ebrahim Sheibani, after he reportedly opposed a recent presidential decree cutting interest rates."




And, Mr. Tait writes in another article, President Ahmadinejad is meeting with Afghanistan's President Karzai just days after Karzai met with US President Bush. This can be seen as another distraction, but it's also a projection of Iranian influence.

Ahmadinejad's first Afghan visit ruffles US feathers

"Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, audaciously signalled his determination to counter US global power today by meeting his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in open defiance of Washington's wishes.

"Mr Ahmadinejad led a high-ranking Iranian delegation to Kabul in a demonstration of growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, where the US, Britain and other western powers are engaged in a bitter struggle with the Taliban.

"The visit - Mr Ahmadinejad's first to Afghanistan - was tailor-made to provoke alarm within the Bush administration, which accuses Tehran of destabilising its efforts while claiming that the Taliban is being armed with Iranian weapons. Iran, which is mainly Shia, denies helping the Taliban, whose puritanical Sunni ideology it has condemned...

"Despite US suspicions, Iran - which has one of the world's highest drug addiction rates - argues that it has legitimate interests in combating the influx of heroin and opiates from the poppy fields of Afghanistan. More than 3,000 Iranian police and security personnel have been killed in clashes with drug smugglers along the Afghan border since 1979.

"There are also at least 2 million Afghan refugees in Iran. The issue has caused tensions recently after Tehran forcibly sent around 100,000 refugees back to Afghanistan, arguing that they were illegal migrants and a drain on the Iranian economy.

"After departing from Kabul, Mr Ahmadinejad was due to fly to Turkmenistan before going on to Kyrgyzstan to attend a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [see SCO, an Asian NATO?], a body created by Russia and China to address regional security threats, foster economic integration and counter US influence in central Asia.

"Iran has observer status with the organisation but is trying to form closer links. Mr Ahmadinejad is expected to meet the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Hu Jintao, the president of China, at the meeting."




See also


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Monday, August 13, 2007

Trials of translation

The journalists who write for the English version of Xinhua, the official Chinese news service, are very fluent. Their use of English is usually indistinguishable from that of journalists whose native language is English.

However, when the political hacks insist on publishing their "politically correct" policy statements, the English language suffers. Maybe the Chinese language suffers too, but I wouldn't know.

For instance, there was this intriguing headline in Xinhua on 13 August, "People's Daily urges to well use opportunity period."

Now, what is that about?

It turns out that clicking on that headline led to the article which had a slightly different headline, "People's Daily: strategic opportunity period should be well used

But the language in much of the rest of the article sounded like it had been translated by the same propaganda team that translated Mao's speeches during the Cultural Revolution:

It said an op-ed piece in the People's Daily would urge "China to learn in depth the important speech made by Chinese President Hu Jintao..."

The article went on to say that, "Hu's important speech is of significance for us to soberly acknowledging the development trend of current world and China and thus tightly grasping and well using the important strategic opportunity period to build up a well-off society in an all-round way..."

Okay, the article really wasn't meant for an English-language audience. Maybe in Chinese its message wasn't so stilted and awkward. But then why was it published at Xinhua?

I'll bet there will be a revised and more polished version later today.


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SCO, an Asian NATO?

In spite of the stated goals, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might become an Asian counterpart to NATO.

It is interesting to learn the identity of the "three evil forces" that joint military exercises are supposed to combat. This report comes from Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

SCO joint drill to crack down on "three evil forces"

"The ongoing 'Peace Mission 2007' anti-terror joint drill, sponsored by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), will target the 'three evil forces' but will not push SCO into a military alliance, Chinese and Russian experts said on Saturday.

"'To crack down on the "three evil forces" - terrorism, separatism and extremism - is a key aspect of defense and security cooperation among SCO members and the joint exercise reflected its long-existing stance,' said Pan Guang, director of a Shanghai-based SCO study center.

"'To enhance multilateral cooperation in a bid to maintain regional security and stability has been a priority in SCO cooperation since the organization was established in June 2001,' Pan said, noting the SCO has taken substantial steps in such fields as signing protocols and setting up anti-terrorism branches...

"The military exercise, however, will not direct at any third party and conforms with the interest of all the six members, namely China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 'It means the SCO cooperation in the defense field will not turn it into a military alliance,' Pan said.

"Russian commander Vladimir Moltenskoi said the exercise will take a new step in the training of armed forces of SCO members "'or jointly combating the threats of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism existing in the region.'..."




Another view of the SCO and its exercises is offered by Bruce Pannier at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site.

In an article titled, Central Asia: SCO To Hold Largest Military Exercises To Date, he offers the thesis that the focus of the SCO is the maintenance of authoritarian power in member nations.

"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will begin counterterrorism exercises on August 9 that will involve some 6,500 troops from the organization's six members...

"China analyst Duncan Innes-Ker at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London says that the fight against terrorism has become one of the major aspects of cooperation for the SCO. 'The fight against Islamic terror groups is one of the few strands that really does sort of bind the cooperation group together fairly strongly,' he notes.

The SCO started truly focusing on counterterrorism in 1999. That year, the SCO summit was in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and at the time the summit was held Kyrgyz forces were fighting Islamic militants in the southern part of the country. China was conducting a crackdown on Muslim Uyghur separatists in the western Xinjiang Region and Russia was on the eve of starting the second Chechnya war of the 1990s...

"But the size of these exercises has led some to speculate that they are not aimed solely at terrorist groups. Stephen Blank is a professor of national security studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. In views that he stressed are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the War College or the U.S. Defense Department, Blank commented on the scope of the SCO military exercises.

"'The size of these exercises is growing and many experts do not believe that they are confined only to so-called antiterrorist activities or even just to Central Asia,' Blank says. 'The August 2005 Sino-Russian exercises, which were conducted under the auspices of the SCO, were so large and so thoroughly combined arms and major-theater conventional warfare in their approach that people believed these were aimed as much at Taiwan and Korea as they were at any potential Central Asian contingency.'...

"Blank points to the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 -- when crowds of demonstrators chased former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev from power -- as having prompted increased efforts at SCO military cooperation in an effort to prevent a repeat of such events in other member states.

"'At least hypothetically, there are grounds for thinking that something like [a terrorist attack or insurgency] could happen,' he says. 'I think it would happen if you had an uprising against the government and I think what galvanizes this on the part of China and Russia is that they were not able to do anything on behalf of Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and they've resolved never to be caught short again.'..."


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Big Brother, 1984-style in China

If the sovereign power of the British Parliament seems alarming, how about increasing the potential power of the state in China.

The New York Times reports, China Enacting a High-Tech Plan to Track People This report makes Orwell look very prescient. How will this affect policy making and policy?

"SHENZHEN, China, Aug. 9 — At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets here in southern China and will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity.

"Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.

"Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial 'one child' policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card...

"Both steps are officially aimed at fighting crime and developing better controls on an increasingly mobile population, including the nearly 10 million peasants who move to big cities each year. But they could also help the Communist Party retain power by maintaining tight controls on an increasingly prosperous population at a time when street protests are becoming more common...

"Every police officer in Shenzhen now carries global positioning satellite equipment on his or her belt. This allows senior police officers to direct their movements on large, high-resolution maps of the city...

"When a police officer goes indoors and cannot receive a global positioning signal from satellites overhead, the system tracks the location of the officer’s cellphone, based on the three nearest cellphone towers..."


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An unwritten constitution?

Sanford R. Silverburg of Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, sent along this exchange from an international law list serve that's based at Columbia University.

The reply to Dr. Fernandez' question offers a great summary of the British constitutional system, which is a wonderful addition to the traditional textbook statement that the UK has no written constitution.

It doesn't answer the question of how the British have managed to preserve a constitutional system when the legislature is unfettered. Most Americans would probably be appalled by the thought that their rights and regime were, in part, guaranteed by "numerous unwritten conventions and practices..."


On 11/08/2007, at 8:14 AM, Dr. Juan Carlos A. Fernández wrote:

> Dear all,
>
> If the British Constitution is not written, i.e. there is no Constitution from the dialectical perspective of law interpretation, who decides that a law is unconstitutional? The Supreme Court? I have some papers here that say that the unconstitutionality process is carried out by the legislative power. Is the judiciary restricted in these issues?
>
> I want to make clear that I have asked this question to several continental US lawyers specialized in constitutional law and they don't know how the proces works.
>
> Could anyone illustrate me? My apologies for not understanding this process.
>
> Thanks and regards,
>
> Juan Carlos
>
> Dr. Juan Carlos A. Fernández
> Abogado - Attorney
> Buenos Aires · Argentina
> legal@centrad.com.ar
>

The answer came from Ron Huttner in Melbourne Australia:

From: International Law Librarians List (Int-Law) on behalf of Ronald Huttner
Sent: Sat, 8/11/2007 7:05am
To: Int-Law@CIESIN.COLUMBIA.EDU
Subject: Re: [Int-Law] BRITISH CONSTITUTION - Reply

Hi Juan Carlos,
It is actually not entirely accurate to say that the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. It does, but that constitution is embodied in a multiplicity of statutes, treaties and judicial decisions - many dating back many centuries. There are also numerous unwritten conventions and practices - many of which are centuries old - which also underpin what is referred to as the "Westminster System" of government.

What it is important to understand is that Parliament is completely sovereign in the United Kingdom and the UK Parliament, unlike the parliaments of the USA and Australia for example, has unlimited legislative power. No court in the UK can declare an Act of Parliament "ultra vires" (i.e. beyond power), because the Parliament has unrestricted power.

A UK Act of Parliament might, arguably, be in breach of the UK's international obligations, however. E.g. if it offends against the Treaty Of Rome or some other international treaty to which the UK is a signatory. But that would be a matter for international law to determine, rather than a matter of "constitutionality" under UK domestic law.

There is no real counterpart, in the UK, to the concept of an "unconstitutional statute" as understood in a country such as the USA, where the central (i.e. federal) government has quite specific and limited legislative powers only - as set out in its written constitution. I suggest you start your further research by looking at:-
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_the_United_Kingdom
Then do some more searching on Google. There is heaps of useful material out there.
Let me know if I can assist further, though bear in mind that my country is like the USA and NOT at all like the UK in this area of law.

Regards,

Ron Huttner LL.B (Hons)
(Retired) Barrister, Solicitor,Law Lecturer and Legal Researcher
Melbourne
Victoria
Australia


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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Conspiracy theories, political culture, and politics

Harassment of improperly dressed women, public executions, and publicizing nuclear power projects have been cited as ways the government of President Ahmadinejad has tried to distract Iranians from the problems of poverty, unemployment, and gasoline shortages. It's a way of trying to hide the political weakness of the government.

Now, there's a new distraction. A subversive plot by an old enemy. No, this time it's not the foreign devils from the USA. This time it's the sneaky devils from the UK. Is this an Iranian version of American anti-communism? Robert Tait, reporting for The Guardian (UK), seems to imply that the paranoia among conservatives in Tehran is like the paranoia preached by Joseph McCarthy in Washington, DC.

I'd be interested in learning the results of more investigation about the mysterious tunnel. I wonder if there's any chance we'll hear more?

Iran accuses Britain of digging tunnel to ferry spies into embassy

"Ascribing sinister motives to Britain has long been an integral part of Iranian culture and political life. But now pro-government hardliners have accused the country they label the 'old fox' of plumbing new depths of chicanery by digging a tunnel to ferry spies and prostitutes into its embassy in Tehran.

"Iranian authorities claim to have uncovered a long subterranean passage leading to the embassy compound, which occupies a large area in the centre of the Iranian capital. The tunnel was reportedly found by builders digging in a nearby alley...

"At a time of heightened paranoia over supposed western-backed plots to topple Iran's Islamic regime, conservative hawks have seized on the alleged discovery to stir up fears about Britain, whose meddling in Iranian affairs in the 19th and 20th centuries has left an enduring effect on the national psyche.

"Raja News, a fundamentalist website linked to the wife of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's official spokesman, claimed the tunnel had been used for trafficking prostitutes and spies. It quoted an unnamed security official who attributed the information to a former employee of the embassy...

"The claims play to deep-seated prejudices about Britain, which many Iranians believe continues to dominate their affairs by stealth...

"Iran is angry at Britain's leading role in attempting to block its nuclear programme through UN security council sanctions. Britain's ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, told the semi-official Fars news agency last month that the west had lost Iran's confidence on the issue."


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Friday, August 10, 2007

At ESPN of all places

Once again, thanks to Jim Lerch, who is soon off to Hong Kong for his new job. He sent me a reference to this ESPN story.

Wright Thompson, a senior writer for ESPN.com, wrote an account of his 2500 km drive from Beijing to Chengdu, Behind the Bamboo Curtain. It's illustrated with great photographs of the people and places along the route.

It's not a pretty picture and Thompson's focus is on how well China can host the Olympic games in '08. There are perhaps inadvertent glimpses of government, politics, political culture, and policy making included. And that makes it potentially useful for you and your students.


"On this wall along Highway 108, local citizens have written grafitti. Some of it voices their displeasure." -Wright Thompson


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And the political ramifications are...

Fewer Mexican Immigrants Are Sending Money Back Home, Bank Says

"This year a smaller percentage of Mexican immigrants in the United States sent money back to their homeland than in 2006, according to a report released yesterday by the Inter-American Development Bank. The bank said the reduction had left at least two million people in Mexico without the same financial help they had once received...

"Donald F. Terry, general manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund at the bank... said the slowdown would affect about 500,000 Mexican homes. “For those families in Mexico, there is going to be economic and social dislocation,” he said.

"Over all, the percentage of Mexicans who regularly sent money home fell to 64 percent in the first half of this year, compared with 71 percent for all of last year, according to the report...

"The immigrants in the survey included American citizens and legal and illegal residents...

"Until this year, money sent home by Mexicans working in the United States had shown spectacular annual growth since 2000, the first year it was systematically recorded by Mexico’s central bank. Last year, these funds totaled $23 billion, making them the country’s second-largest source of foreign income after oil...

"Remittances to Mexico have become vital to the economics of the country’s poorest regions, bank officials said. The money pays for drinking-water systems, roads, care for older people and other needs in villages and working-class neighborhoods."


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Teaching with Persepolis

Michelle Heath shared with the AP Government and Politics Electronic Discussion Group her discoveries that offer help in teaching about Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis. I think it's a great political coming of age story about Iran at the time of the revolution and eminently useful as a teaching tool. In case you missed the note, here are the specifics.

First, Michelle found "Teaching ideas from the National Council of Teachers of English." They look excellent.

At the Thinkfinity site where she found those teaching ideas, there's also a link to an interview with Marjane Satrapi from AsiaSource.


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Bring back Kungfuzi

Maureen Fan, writing in the Washington Post, describes the apparent revival of a modern version of the teachings of Kungfuzi (Confucius).



"Confucianism is enjoying a resurgence in this country, as more and more Chinese... seek ways to adapt to a culture in which corruption has spread and materialism has become a driving value. For many Chinese, a system of ethical teachings that stresses the importance of avoiding conflict and respecting hierarchy makes perfect sense, even if it was first in vogue centuries ago.

"State-supported commemorations of Confucius have become more common...

"Because Confucianism has only recently regained its popularity -- it was seen as an obstacle to modernization during the anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 -- many Chinese today are hard-pressed to fully describe the philosophy. It has become a grab bag of ideas that people are tailoring to their own needs as they search for a new belief system.

"For the government, Confucianism is a way to encourage order and bring more legitimacy to its rule -- the philosophy's emphasis on respect for authority, for example, is appealing to Communist Party leaders...

"For parents, Confucianism is a way to raise obedient children who won't forget their own culture. In an age of conspicuous consumption, the philosophy is also appealing to a growing middle class whose members often say they can finally afford to consider spiritual matters...

"'China has made great economic achievements in the past 30 years, and this has brought back a confidence that we lost. With this confidence comes a return to being proud of Chinese culture,' said Kang Xiaogang, a professor at People's University and one of China's top proponents of Confucian education. 'Another important reason for the growing popularity of Confucianism is that the effectiveness of Marxist ideology has decreased. That's why the government needs to look for new ideologies.'...

"Already, a debate has begun over whether Confucianism can really solve problems that China's fast-paced modernization and current education system have failed to address...

"Last year, a bestseller called Wolf Totem, written by a dissident, was debated among intellectuals and business leaders. One of its central points, some said, was that Confucianism had taught China's Han Chinese majority to behave like obedient sheep, accepting any leadership, as opposed to the more independent, predatory and successful Mongolian wolves in the book..."


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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does it have to be either/or?

For comparative purposes, what does the thesis, described in The Guardian (UK), say about structural (institutional) comparisons and behaviorial (utilitarian) comparisons?

Is there a comparativist out there who would like to offer a review of this book and its implications for comparative politics?

What does it say about leadership and policy making in Gordon Brown's UK? Do the Tories just need a leader who projects the proper emotional cues (like Margaret Thatcher did)?

Have Fox and Calderón almost gotten it right in Mexico?

Does it make any sense to ask these questions about Russia, Iran, China, and Nigeria?


Voting with their hearts

"What matters most in politics - facts and logic, or stories and feelings? Drew Westen says it's emotion that counts - and shows how Bill Clinton and George W Bush understood this, while John Kerry and Al Gore never got it. Here we print extracts from his new book, The Political Brain - which is essential summer reading from Washington to Westminster.

"The vision of the mind that has captured the imagination of philosophers, cognitive scientists, economists and political scientists since the 18th century - a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions - bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work.

"A study of my own, and a growing body of research in psychology and political science, show that the political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision. The reality is that our brains are vast networks of neurons (nerve cells) that work together to generate our experience of the world. Of particular importance are networks of associations, bundles of thoughts, feelings, images and ideas that have become connected over time...

"The data from political science are crystal clear: people vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not the candidate who presents the best arguments...

"The paradox of American politics is that when it comes to winning hearts and minds, the party that views itself as the one with the heart (for the middle class, the poor, and the disenfranchised) continues to appeal exclusively to the mind. True to the liberal philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries, contemporary "liberals" believe that the way to voters' hearts is through their brains. But they are appealing to the wrong part of the brain.

"· Extracted from The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen, published by Public Affairs, price £15.99. © Drew Westen 2007."

[It's available in the USA too.]




See also:


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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Weak regime, strong state

These actions may be signs of a weak regime, but it's a regime still in control of the power of power of the state. Whether its exercise of those powers strengthens the regime or weakens it is still open to question.

Reformist paper closed by Iran for second time

"Authorities in Iran closed down the country's leading reformist newspaper yesterday in the latest stage of an offensive against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opponents in the media.

"Shargh, which has been critical of Mr Ahmadinejad, was ordered to shut after running an interview with an anti-regime poet last Saturday...

"Shargh's editor, Ahmad Gholami, suggested that Saturday's interview was merely an excuse for the latest closure. 'Publication of an interview is not a plausible justification for banning a newspaper,' he said.

"Ham Mihan, a moderate newspaper, and ILNA, a trade union-linked news agency, were closed last month. Twenty-seven MPs recently wrote to Mr Ahmadinejad complaining about official filtering of news-based websites. They also urged him to ease the confrontational approach towards critical media."



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Preserving federalism and presidential legitimacy

In a move that appears to fight corruption, President Yar'Adua also "wins friends and influences people" by ensuring that local leaders won't see a reduction in their oil production revenues.

The proposed health clinics would have been funded with money to be withheld by the national government from the monthly checks delivered to local officials.

Nigeria blocks huge clinic deal

"Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has ordered the suspension of a multi-million dollar contract awarded by his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo.

"The 18bn naira ($145m) contract to build health clinics across the country was awarded to a company believed to be owned by a former aide to Mr Obasanjo.

"'It was an illegal contract,' Mr Yar'Adua's spokesman told the BBC...

"'There's no law backing it. It was being funded with illegal local government funds,' President Yar'Adua's spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi told the BBC News website.

"This is the second time in less than three weeks that President Yar'Adua would be reversing a major decision taken by his predecessor and political benefactor...."


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Monday, August 06, 2007

Interim evaluation of Yar'Adua

Kola Animasaun, writing in Vanguard (Lagos), gives the new Nigerian president a cautious and provisional thumbs up. In the process, he offers some criteria by which we could evaluate the next while in the presidency.

Katherine Houreld's evaluation in The Washington Post is similarly tentative. What else would we expect in an assessment of two months of a government?

Nonetheless, these articles might be useful as teaching tools six months from now. As you read about the high expectations Nigerians have of their new president, it's good to remind ourselves of the optimism that seems to be a basic part of Nigerian political culture.

Yar'Adua Two Months After

"IT is only a couple of days after two months that Musa Yar'Adua was sworn-in... An unfancied horse that no-one gave a chance... He has since gone ahead to break the ice and clear the cob-web of our political life.... He has been able to calm our nerves and the apprehension that has been abroad has been cleared...

"Yar'Adua did emerge the way the Holy Prophet advised a leader should emerge... do not put yourself forward for an office... But if you are asked, you will have useful people rallying to your banner. Musa was heading for his farms when he was asked to run. The omen is that he may succeed...

"Musa has taken the stage and means to make the best of a bad job. He is reported to be working quietly to bring peace to Oyo State and to Delta and Bayelsa... And he has accepted to be a father to all. Only on Tuesday, the Police banned him and others from using the siren...

"Yar'Adua rarely talks except where and when necessary, preferring to work at our nagging problems. He has not insulted anyone and has exhibited extremely good breeding... there is copious room for optimism. He is like the head of the fish. Once the head is good, the body, of course, will be good. He is leading by example and if he makes a mistake the people would be ready to forgive him. Because it would be a genuine mistake."



Nigeria's New Leader Faces Uncertainties

"In his first two months in office, Nigeria's shy, aristocratic new president has faced a nationwide strike, violence in the country's oil region and accusations that he's too timid for the job.

"But these challenges pale compared with the country's corruption, decayed infrastructure and poverty. This nation of 140 million expects a lot of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

"There are signs that Yar'Adua, a reclusive former chemistry teacher from a royal Muslim family, is preparing for real change, says Jibrin Ibrahim of the Center for Democracy and Development, a Nigerian think tank. It will take a year for his true colors to emerge, and meanwhile, with a cabinet of competing factions, "he is still not totally in charge," Ibrahim said.

"Every step forward so far has left Nigerians clamoring for more.

"In a surprise move, Yar'Adua publicly declared his assets _ the first Nigerian president to do so _ and urged his officials to do the same. None has so far.

"Yar'Adua reversed the contentious sale of two of the country's broken down refineries to a shadowy consortium headed by Obasanjo's allies, a deal hurried through in the dying days of the outgoing regime...

"And this month, four former governors were charged with stealing state money, with more arrests promised by the country's anti-corruption watchdog...

"The new administration has two members of the opposition, seven women, and a finance minister seen by many as a reformist. But Yar'Adua has also retained many faces from the outgoing regime, which worries those looking for a radical change of direction.

"'He is very cautious, to the point of being faulted,' said Charles Dokubo of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs. 'Nigerians want (Yar'Adua) to prove to them that he does not need a back-seat driver.'"




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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Populist digital politics

Democratic candidates for president responded to questions posed in YouTube videos and appeared at the Yearly Kos, a meeting of liberal bloggers. Some Republican candidates balked at answering questions posed on the Internet, but are likely to do so in the end. Technology is changing politics and government. But how and how much?

A pair of op-ed articles on the web site of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce in the UK might offer some starting points for discussion, debate or writing in your classes.

Here are excerpts:

Open to all…

George Osborne on ‘open-source politics’
[George Osborne is shadow chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Tatton, Cheshire]

"The internet is changing the world... What is less clear is how politics and government need to change to keep pace... Just as companies all over the world are changing the way they do business... We need to recast the political settlement for the digital age. We need ‘open source’ politics.

"First, this means embracing equality – equality of information...

"Secondly, we need to harness the potential of new online social networks... These new online networks enable us to engage with new audiences...

"The final pillar of this new settlement is ‘open source’. Open source harnesses the power of mass collaboration to find new ideas..."

…but tread with caution

Will Davies on why we need to stay focused on the real issues within the UK power structure, rather than on the niche area of ‘open-source politics’
[Will Davies is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research]

"Consider the following two portraits of Britain in 2007. In the first, the internet has fostered a culture of mass collaboration, in which open source projects such as Wikipedia are worked on by a distributed network of volunteers.Politics increasingly follows a similar model, with citizens seizing the potential of interactive media to organise themselves both on a local and non-local level. Political parties and governments have no choice but to partner with these ever-more confident citizens on an equal basis.

"Transparency and interactivity have trumped secrecy and passivity. Individuals speak for themselves and hold power to account, thanks to being equipped with abundant information...

"The second portrait could scarcely be more different. In this, the rules that limit state and police power are gradually eroded, with tangible public support. Liberal measures such as data privacy and freedom of information become viewed as unnecessary burdens that undermine the more important goals of maximising security and public-service efficiency. Concern for inequality leads policymakers further into the private lives of individuals and families...

"George Osborne’s championing of ‘open-source politics’ only exacerbates the contradiction. He argues that top-down politics is impossible in a bottom-up age, while the truth is that the two are mutually reinforcing. How can this be? Three answers suggest themselves.

"Firstly, to paraphrase the trickle-down economists, the rising tide of digital technology lifts all ships. While citizens can now Google each other, search parliamentary debates using theyworkforyou.com or gather medical information to challenge their doctor’s opinion, similar technologies have been harnessed by the powerful to entrench their informational advantages...

"Secondly, a vague but highly significant line is being drawn between those decisions that can and can’t be democratised. At one extreme lies counter-terrorism, an activity that by definition can’t engage the public on an equal footing. At the other lies pure opinion gathering, such as a BBC message board. But problems arise in the middle ground, especially where children are involved. Should parents be involved in developing the content of the school curriculum? How much should employers be allowed to know about their employees (and vice versa)? The e-democracy zealots tend to focus only on the narrow comfort zone in which decisions matter sufficiently to attract interest, but not enough to carry significant risk...

"Following from this is a more perturbing thesis, but one that any serious investigation of this topic must address. In his classic study of community life, Bowling Alone, Harvard academic Robert Puttnam writes: 'The ability to send a message to president@whitehouse.gov can give the illusion of much more access, participation and social proximity than is actually available'. While all efforts to make the democratic process more transparent must be celebrated, there is a danger that some of them look to substitute technological interactivity for constitutional interactivity...

"None of the above is to dispute the veracity of Osborne’s depiction. Open-source politics is real and interesting. But to focus on a niche and relatively inconsequential area of politics to the exclusion of other more momentous shifts in UK power structures is irresponsible..."


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